Contributor: Lynda Davies

In recent episodes we have covered a number of ideas about shaping our student coursework experience, discussed the development of a course design framework, and explored authentic learning and assessment design. In this episode we’ll pull it all together.

When we are reviewing a course, or planning a new one, there are two overarching questions that many of us start with:

  • What do my students need to know, and show me they can do?
  • What will the 150 hours of work required for this course look like for my students?

Using the Teacher-guided and Learner-generated course design framework we can plan and/or review course elements to address those two questions. We will be able to apply the ideas developed on Volume of Learning, collaborative and independent learning activities and authentic learning and assessment.

Volume of Learning

What time frame do you have to deliver your course? When does it start and when is the last assessment task due?

If your course starts in Week 1 and the last assignment task is due during last week of teaching, – then you and your students have 12 weeks to work together.

If your course starts in Week 1 and the last assignment task is due during revision week (eg., when you and the program director have identified that it is ok to use this week because none of the core courses this trimester have exams that students need to prepare for) – then you and your students have 13 weeks to work together.

If your course starts in Week 1 and you have an end of trimester exam, potentially your students have 15 weeks to undertake their 150 hours of work.

The spread of time over which the 150 hours of work needs to be done affects how many hours per week your students should be dedicating to your coursework. Knowing how many hours per week should be reasonably allocated to the course helps you shape the amount and type of work you expect your students to do.

Exploring Content and Concepts

What is going to be the best mix of content delivery through the course? Which platform best suits the job you are asking your students to do? Face-to-face or virtual? Together with you and peers, or alone? What will your students be doing:

  • Listening to/watching you deliver content?
  • Finding/researching specific content?
  • Discussing content with you and peers?
  • Interacting with and exploring the content alone?

We are starting to consider how we are going to use collaborative or independent learning activities and what type will help our students learn the most at each point in the course.

The following video gives a quick example of how this content-focussed part of our course design incorporates both collaborative and independent learning.

It may be useful to review the information on types of tasks and their short and long-term benefits in our tipsheet Collaborative and Independent Learning Activities in AEL.

Doing, trying and testing

Research on learning and memory shows that the mind’s attention and focus is critical to memory formation, its storage, and our ability to retrieve the information contained in the memory. Short-term (things that we remember for about 15-60seconds, such as ‘carrying over’ a number in a subtraction sum) and long-term memories are created differently and stored in different parts of the brain. Short-term memory relies on transient chemical connections that fade quickly whereas long-term memories result in physical changes to the brain’s neural network.

I think we’d all agree that we want our students to commit the key points of their learning to long-term memory. For that to happen they have to be actively working with the idea, concept, data, literature, process, etc., for the short-term memory to be consolidated and associated with meaning and hence transferred to long-term memory. The more often the work is done and the memory accessed, the more efficient the neurological connections become. Motivation, emotion and context (environment) also all play their part in how strong the memory becomes and how successfully it is retrieved later.

There are a couple of significant implications in all this for our course and learning activity design. Doing something with new information or skills and applying them in authentic activities associates them with meaning and makes links between theory and practice. Hence, this Doing, Trying, Testing phase of course design and the learning environment we create to support it offers significant opportunities for the most thorough translation of new knowledge into long-term memory.

Challenges to, and failures in, memory retrieval are more likely to occur if there is a disconnect between how/where someone learned the ‘thing’ in question and the context in which they try to recall, or perform it. This is why design for authentic learning and assessment can have such powerful outcomes.

Reflecting and meaning-making

Authentic learning and assessment helps our students connect what they learn with us to their likely future endeavours and experiences. Through well designed and aligned authentic learning activities and assessment our graduates will be able to identify issues and what needs to be done, apply what they know, take on feedback, update their outputs, adapt their methods and transfer ideas and skills from one context to another.

An important element of all that is the capability to reflect and make meaning out of situations, new information, new contexts – being able to connect (and sometimes adjust) what we know and believe to the new.

See our tipsheet on Assessing Authentically for more on this.

Demonstrating, Applying and Judging

One of the most important aspects of this element of course design is providing opportunities through the course for students to:

  • practice stuff;
  • create evidence of their achievement; and
  • learn to judge the quality of their work as they are producing it

Apart from the benefits of doing this while they are learning and earning marks, this is a skill they have to be able to take with them into their professional and community contexts after graduation.

They have to be able to look at their work and judge:

  • is it what I was asked to do?
  • is it good enough?
  • Will it do (given the timeframes, resources etc., available…)?
  • What needs more work?
  • What am I happy with?

Questions for us include:

  • How, when and where in my course can I provide opportunities, tasks, structures for my students to practice and judge work?
  • How, when and where in my course can I share with them how I (and other markers) judge their work?
  • What opportunities do I give them to calibrate their judgement with mine (and other markers)?

The video below gives an example of how the alignment between an assessment task, content, and a learning activity provided opportunities for students to judge relevant work.

Further Reading

Nicol, D.J., and D. Macfarlane-Dick. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education 31:199–218.

Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science 18: 119–44.

Smith Calvin D, Worsfold, Kate, Davies, Lynda, Fisher, Ron, McPhail, Ruth. (2013) Assessment literacy and student learning: the case for explicitly developing students ‘assessment literacy’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38:1, 44-60. DOI:10.1080/02602938.2011.598636


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